It seems from comments the other day that there are people who are interested in knowing more about the agent side of the submission process and how it works. Several indicated that this is apparently rarely discussed in the blogosphere. My instinct is to say that the reason it tends not to appear readily is partially because most books require an individualistic approach and therefore the generalization may not prove all that helpful in explaining to someone who hasn’t yet reached that step.
We’ll assume for the purposes of this attempt that the manuscript is in a completely polished state, clean, and revised as far as the writer can take it, with any possible suggestions from the agent to make the story stronger and/or more marketable.
Then, we’ll assume that your mileage may vary a little from agency to agency, so take what follows as sort of a guideline because I can really only tell you the specifics of how I work.
The first thing I am likely to do is any required market research. Sometimes this happens partially before I offer representation. Or, in the case of clients, while I’m reading a new project that isn’t under option. If the book is an area I handle often, this doesn’t tend to take long. I check my notes from recent lunch dates or recent sales reports to begin compiling a list of editors and houses. Sometimes these include notes from other agents at DMLA. Sometimes I consult other resources — for example, if the book is a newer area for me, it might involve me chatting up an editor-friend for recommendations at their house. Basically, it’s networking, networking, networking.
Ultimately it comes to a discusion with the author. First I want to find out if they admire any particular house, perhaps for the look of its books, or if they have an editor on their dream list of people to work with. Then I discuss my marketing plan with them to make sure it fits their vision. This will also generally be the point where we talk about whether to make single submissions, multiple submissions, or set up an auction situation. There are pros and cons to each approach, depending on the book usually, but that’s a whole ‘nother essay.
Next is the submission package itself. This might look similar to the one the author would make. It would include any advance quotes I might be able to get, the author’s credits and/or reviews, author’s credentials (if appropriate). And, of course, it goes on DMLA stationery. Once I’ve got that ready to go and I’ve jotted up notes for my pitch, it’s time to talk to editors. This can happen over lunch, by phone, via email…. It’s essentially a double-check to be sure that the idea of the book will interest them, and that they are currently taking submissions. I get a positive response about 95% of the time.
The manuscript goes out into the cold, cruel world.
Submission time can vary greatly depending on the editor and this may be a factor in the marketing plan depending on the author. Some editors are known for their quick turnaround. Some are known for taking their time. And everything in between. I make regular followups to keep the book on the radar and get status updates for the client as I’m able. While we wait, I encourage the author to work on the next project, and offer helpful feedback if possible.
In the case of a rejection, I gnash my teeth, and then update the author and send them a copy of the letter or an email with the relevant portion. Then, it’s wash, rinse, repeat until we get the sale. I have made sales in under a week. But I have one book that is the basis of a story I love to tell at conventions. It took me two and a half years to sell. I swear it was under a curse because nearly every editor I sent it to either quit or was “let go” after they received it. I sure did love that book, though. I believe it’s now in its 14th printing and the author and I have gone on to sell many more.
I don’t know how much this actually tells you about what agents do with your book. Reading back through it, I find it so general as to be only vaguely illuminary. Perhaps at one point I might convince a client or three to let me map out an actual sale to illustrate this to a greater degree. For now, I hope this provides at least a little insight.